RING: A Biography of Ring Lardner by Jonathan Yardley
Kirkus Star

RING: A Biography of Ring Lardner

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Biased, fragmented memoir or no, there was more echo of the real Ring in last year's The Lardners than in this earnest, hard-working critical biography by a contributing editor at Sports Illustrated. Yardley gives us a chapter on How-Baseball-Was-In-Them-Days before he lets Ring get born, and he strives to keep the Lardner image as spruce as it was in that pre-War, baseball-reporting era. Moving Ring quickly from his Niles, Mich. hometown to all those Chicago newspaper stints--sports coverage, chatty columns, ""In the Wake of the News,"" light verse--he carefully charts the development of the You Know Me Al and wise-boob personae and the ungrammatical, misspelled vernacular style that became the Lardner trademark and, arguably, one of the prime sources of ""talking"" prose in modern American letters. Unfortunately, in his enthusiasm, Yardley overquotes, overanalyzes, overpraises (especially in the case of the usually wretched, often maudlin doggerel), and overstates: Damon Runyon is cast as a ""Lardner imitator"" who merely transposed the You Know Me Al manner to Broadway. As a result, when he comes to the inspired nonsense plays and the best stories--like ""Some Like Them Cold""--Yardley's applause has been somewhat devalued. And, while he vigorously defends Ring from the critics who find misanthropy and misogyny behind the Lardner bonhomie, his own ""dime-store psychologizing"" (he condemns it but halfheartedly does it) lamely attributes Ring's unfulfilled promise to his ""search for fun"" (learned from Mother L.), his alcoholism to his unfulfilled promise (""this was all?""), and his impersonal writing to his ""incredible ear"" (so incredible that he ""rarely had to wrench anything from deep inside""). But, if a less than reliable critic and psychologist, Yardley is a thorough, personable chronicler, always on the lookout for bygone charm and finding it--in Ring's long-distance courtship of wife Ellis; in Ring's stagestruck, songstruck theatrical half-career; in the off-beat Lardner-F. Scott Fitzgerald camaraderie. Yardley's critical ambitions keep Ring from storytelling exuberance, and his Pollyanna-ish partisanship keeps those ambitions from being fulfilled, but this is nonetheless a readable mix of life and letters that Ring-lovers can cheer and more serious students can weigh against the rest of Lardneriana.

Pub Date: Aug. 8th, 1977
Publisher: Random House